COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the state’s largest county and metropolitan area, Republicans are attempting to suppress votes by shutting down a public education campaign about early voting. Franklin County GOP officials Doug Preisse and Brad Sinnott have “made voter education a partisan issue,” says Andrew Ginther, the Democratic mayor of Columbus.
Preisse and Sinnott are both members of the Board of Elections, as well as leading the Republican Party in the county. Preisse and Sinnott worked together on the Board of Elections to deny a plan that would advertise early voting information and other critical election education to voters in Franklin County, the largest stronghold for Democratic voters in the state.
The plan was proposed in October and backed by the two Democratic members of the four-person Board of Elections, Kimberly Marinello and Michael Sexton, consistent with similar campaigns approved in prior election years. It called for up to $275,000 of advertisements in the county, but was blocked on a 2-2 vote in early October by Preisse and Sinnott.
That would have been less than half of what was spent in 2014, the most recent midterm election cycle, when approximately $658,000 of advertisements were approved by the board. It’s also significantly less than the $325,000 spent in 2016 during the presidential election cycle. Regardless of the price tag, this is a standard, non-partisan action that occurs every two years during the election cycles dating back to 2006 — until this GOP-fueled partisan fight.
Preisse and Sinnott justify the move by claiming the election was already so well-publicized that the advertising would be redundant. Sinnott went as far as to say that central Ohioans would have to be “in a comatose state” to not realize that the Nov. 6 election was just around the corner.
That is, of course, wildly inconsistent with previous election cycles, as noted above. It also deliberately obscures the point of voter education. It’s not to remind Americans that they live in a democracy, but specifically to spread awareness of early voting times and locations in Franklin County. That information is not widely available or common knowledge to the vast majority of voters.
Anyone who has participated in voter outreach this cycle has no doubt encountered their share of voters who have no idea early voting is an option, which is exactly the point of the Republican efforts. Franklin is the state’s largest county and generates the largest number of Democratic votes in recent elections.
Moreover, this was not a funding proposal that caught Preisse and Sinnott by surprise. Money for early voter education was in the budget for more than 10 months and was only deliberately blocked by the Republican duo with four weeks to go until the election.
“This is another piece of Republicans trying really hard to not have the electorate exercise their ability to vote. Our perspective is that that’s exactly what they’re doing,” shared a county source close to the situation.
In Ohio, and especially in Franklin County, early voting often leans in favor of Democrats and offers the city’s working class a way to get to the polls without taking time off of work. It’s not in any way a surprise that these attacks have partisan motivations and are designed to suppress voter turnout — specifically Democratic voter turnout — in order to aid Republican victory odds.
In order to counteract the lack of publicly disseminated information on early voting and other critical information for would-be voters ahead of Nov. 6, the Columbus City Council took up the mantle.
Six Democratic members of the council voted unanimously on Oct. 22 to authorize $280,000 in advertisement spending on election information and voter education efforts.
The city council’s advertisement spending was not even the initial back-up plan. County commissioners initially put aside $245,000 from the budget to do the Board of Elections’ job for them, since they refused. They were advised, however, that they would not be legally allowed to do so by county prosecutor Ron O’Brien. This advice was unsolicited by the county, but should come as no surprise given O’Brien’s partisan affiliation with the Republican party.
Per county sources, O’Brien refused to work with the commissioners to find a solution to this problem. County commissioners felt that they would have had the legal right to use funds for election education, but O’Brien would not explore options and acted as an obstructionist.
By contrast, Columbus city attorney Zach Klein advised that the city council would have authority instead, based on the City’s home-rule powers. Even that has drawn the ire of Republicans, with County Republican party officials now asking State Auditor, Republican Dave Yost to intervene.
Another source revealed that an auditor from Yost’s office (keep in mind, Yost is on the ballot on Nov. 6 running for Attorney General in Ohio) called county administrator Ken Wilson and engaged in what appeared to be a clear partisan intimidation tactic under the powers of an auditor.
The auditor called to “make sure [the county] hadn’t spent any money” on voter education and threatened Wilson that any spending would be “looked at very closely” in an upcoming state audit. It appeared to be a clear threat to make life difficult for the county in the future if they had the gall to actually offer election information to voters.
Fortunately for Central Ohio voters, while the fight rages, the ad campaign is already up on the air and online and information has been well-disseminated. The Nov. 6 election will be a dog fight, but it’s a strong sign to see that the city of Columbus did not bow to Republican voter intimidation and partisan hackery in this matter.
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